I don’t care where you stand on gun legislation or LGBTA rights.

Dear Orlando,

I’ve been trying to figure out what to say in response to the mass shooting that occurred in your city, but how am I supposed to figure out what to say when I can’t even make sense of what happened? How can I figure out what to say when there are communities in mourning—not just within your city, but within our country, within our world? How can I figure out what to say when all the major issues in our country are so divisive, when we can’t even have a civil discussion about the issues events like this bring up? How can I figure out what to say when the two major political parties can’t agree on anything—even when it comes down to the value of human life and how to save it—when their candidates are using this tragedy to advance their own campaigns, draw attention to their own successes?

I’ve been trying to think about what to say, mulling Saturday’s events over in my head all day Sunday and most of day, letting my thoughts fester like an open wound, feeling the pain—both my own and second hand pain from the communities affected by this: both the LGBTA and Muslim communities. And after all this time of reflection and thinking, I’m still not sure that I know exactly what I want to say; I’m not sure that I have the right words.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe there are no right words. Maybe there are just words, opinions really, that are either harmful or good. I’m all for supporting opinions and free speech—after all, it is our right as Americans to say what we think, and because of this right, I posted what I thought last night on Facebook:

response

After sleeping on it (which didn’t actually happen because I was too busy mulling things over to actually sleep), I’m standing by what I said, but I’m also going to add to and clarify things.

First of all, I want to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry that this happened to you—both to your city and the LGBTA and Muslim communities. I’m sorry we live in a world where this keeps happening, i.e., Terrorist attacks. I’m sorry we live in a country where this keeps happening, i.e., mass shootings. I’m sorry we live in a country where certain groups are targeted based on race, sexuality, or religion. And I know that we are not the only country where things like this happen. I know that, but, as a US citizen and a citizen of the world, I am concerned with where we are headed.

Second of all, Radical Islam is our enemy. But so is Radical Christianity. So is Radical anything. The very definition of the word “Radical” proves this to be true. According to Merriam Webster dictionary, Radical is” a :  very different from the usual or traditional :  extreme b :  favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions c :  associated with political views, practices, and policies of extreme change d :  advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs.”

Not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all terrorists are foreign born. Not all terrorists are Muslims. Not all Christians are the Westboro Baptist Church. And yes, statistically in the United States, most of what have been labeled ‘Terrorist Attacks’ have been carried out by Muslim extremists. But there have been other attacks in our recent history that have not been labeled Terrorism that fit the bill. (the Charleston church shooting comes to mind, attacks carried out by a young Christian, white supremacist Male.)

Third of all, this was more than just an act of Terrorism. This was a Hate crime against the LGBTA community, which happened to be committed by a US born citizen who became a Radical Muslim. The attack was planned; the venue was not. He had a hatred of gay people, or at least an aversion to them—an animosity so great he decided to act. It was a terror attack and a hate crime all wrapped into one horrific event. Which makes this whole thing more confusing. 

There’s nothing black or white about any of this. It’s more than just liberals vs conservatives, republicans vs democrats, Muslims vs Christians, the Western World vs the Middle Eastern World, guns vs no guns. This whole thing is a big mess of a murky grey color.

Which means there are no easy answers. And we as a nation, as a world have to be ok with that. Because we have a much bigger problem on our hands than ISIS, Terrorism, and gun violence.

Our biggest problem lies in the rhetoric of our First Amendment right—the freedom of speech. We are each entitled to our own opinion, but over the years our opinions have become so divisive, so polarizing, so stuck.

There is nothing inherently wrong with having opinions; the problem begins when our opinions led to people, actual HUMAN BEINGS being killed.

We have, as a society, become so headstrong, so defensive, we can’t engage in civil discourse about the most pressing issues of our time. We can’t see the “other sides” side of things. Perhaps, most importantly, when it comes to arguing issues, each side isn’t even arguing about the same thing—each overarching issue has many different points, and each side is arguing a different point, which means no discussion can happen.

And this lack of discussion is widening the gap between “us” and “them,” driving a wedge between both sides of an issue. Which leads me back to where the problem really lies: our “us vs them” mentality.

By referring to those who are as “us” and to those who aren’t as “them,” we are doing a disservice to those who are different—we are isolating them, ostracizing them, making them afraid to live their lives.  After 9/11, attacks against Muslims in the US rose, rising again after the Paris attacks. Attacks against the LGBTA community are also prevalent in today’s culture.

“Us vs Them” is dangerous, creating divisions, Grand Canyon sized rifts and wedges between populations of the world—wedges which really allows ISIS to be the most effective. Westerners aren’t the only people affected by ISIS; Muslims in the Middle East are affected more than the Western Countries are (I googled it for you). ISIS capitalizes on the rift between Western Christians and Muslims because our tendency in the West is to loop all Muslims in the “Terrorist until Proven otherwise Category,” which allows ISIS to swoop in and save the day for the Western Muslim. (Picture a street kid who is bullied joining a gang for protection and a sense of identity.)

So, no, there are no easy answers. No, I do not have any of the hard answers. Nor do I have any suggestions on how to change policy because at 21, I am too young to even know where to begin. But at 21, I am old enough to see that we have to do something because I’ve seen enough violence to last a lifetime.

I don’t even know how to begin to enact the change as a world on the macro level. But on the micro level, the change begins with me. And it begins with my words.

As an English major and a writer, I have learned to be very careful with the words I use when writing—I try my hardest not to use words that will isolate my reader. As a Christian, I am even more so—because there is no “us and them” in the eyes of God. There is only us; We the people; we the Children of God.

So, no. Now is not the time for frivolous arguments that will get nowhere—you can only beat the dead horse so many times with the same useless stick.

No, I do not care, nor do I want to hear about your opinions about guns and the LGBTA and Muslim communities today. Our opinions have caused so much hurt already. Now is the time for unity.

And to those who are hurting today: my friends in the LGBTA who are afraid to hold hands with the person you love in public, who are afraid to come out to you family and friend; my friends in the Muslim community who are now afraid to leave your house, I want to say I am sorry.

I’m sorry for everything.

And I know words can only do so much. But I want you to know that you are my neighbor.

We are one People; one body.

Sometimes we forget that we are not the only victims. The same things we suffer from, you do, too.

I will try not to forget anymore.

And I am going to try my hardest to help you in any way I can, even if that means reaching out, being a friend to those who are different from me. If there’s one thing my life has taught me, it’s that those who are different from us are the ones we can learn the most from.

 

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

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To Dan and Brock Turner

To Dan and Brock Turner:

Here’s the thing: I’m not a parent, so I don’t know what it’s like to want to protect your child, to want to defend them when they are a victim, to want to soften the blow when they do something wrong. I don’t know what it feels like to raise a child and watch them make mistakes, watch them do terrible things. But I do know this: I know that sometimes the best way to protect your child from future harm is by letting them face the consequences of their actions today.

Humans are not perfect, nor we should we pretend to be. We all do terrible things, and we all face punishment for our wrongdoings, or at least we should—it’s how we learn, how we become better humans, how we become more sympathetic to someone else’s plight. As a child, I was punished if I did something wrong, even if the only person hurt by my actions was me. If I hurt someone else by my actions, my punishment was more severe. As it should be. That’s how I learned not to hurt people, to respect them.

We all hurt people; it’s just a part of life. The question is: do we learn from the hurt we cause, or do we continue to allow it to happen? By defending your son in the way that you did, I don’t know if he has learned anything.

But I know who has: future victims—the young people who have watched this case unfold. The young girls have learned that if they’re raped, which approximately 1 in 4 will be, they’re better off not saying anything. They’re better off not pressing charges, because even if there is evidence, their attacker will get off lightly. It’s better to suffer quietly than to be publicly attacked, to have your name dragged through the mud, to have every decision you make questioned because society needs to justify what happened. Girls who are raped can be as brave as they want, but in this culture, bravery is not enough.

The young boys have learned that if they are white, middle-class and above, athletic, smart, and have a “bright future ahead of them,” they can rape someone and have consequences that do not match their actions. But if you’re a black man who’s wrongly accused of rape, good luck, dude. No one’s on your side either.

I hope I’m wrong about both of the above. 

I also know this: your son is not the victim here. You wrote in your letter to the judge about how your son used to be compared to how he is now. As you put it:

As it stands now, Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan 17th and 18th. He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile. His every waking moment is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression. You can see this in his face, the way he walks, his weakened voice, his loss of appetite.

That, dear sir, is what guilt looks like. I’ve seen it before. I’ve felt it before, usually in the twilight period between doing something wrong and confessing, the period where I’m sick-to-my-stomach terrified that I’m going to get caught. The only thing your son is a victim of is what he did to himself. He made a choice that night, and I know you and he blame it on the alcohol, but the alcohol is not the problem. It’s not a drinking problem; it’s a societal problem. Rape can happen alcohol or not, “promiscuous behavior” or not; rape can happen, as it did for me, in a Middle School bathroom; a place where I, arguably, should have been the safest, besides my own home.

A murderer can still get the maximum sentence even if the murderer only took “20 minutes.” A rape is still a rape even if it was only “20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” Mine took less than 15 minutes, but it took more than 15 minutes for me to heal. There is no timeline on healing. 8 years later, and I’m still not fully healed. But I’m getting there, and your victim will, too.

I read her letter. All 12 heart-breaking, gut-wrenching pages of it. It took me three days, a new record. And I read it again and again, letting the words wash over me as my heart broke, as memories resurfaced. I read it first as a sign of solidarity: “I’ve been through this too, and I want to support you the only way I know how.” I read it again because I was amazed at the strength your victim showed as she faced you in court, publicly sharing her letter. I read it again and again because I see something in her I recognize—the sleepless nights, the wanting to leave your body behind, the strength it takes to get out of bed every day–and even though I’m farther along on this journey than she is, I am amazed at how far she’s come.

I don’t know the kind of person she was before you raped her; I’ve only gotten glimpses by the words she’s shared, but I do know who she is now: she is someone who’s walked through one of the toughest things imaginable and has come out on the other side stronger than she was before. I do know who she’ll be: she’ll be amazing; she’ll be shining bright; she’ll be someone who touches the life of everybody she has come in contact with. She’s touched mine, and I’ve only read her letter.

You had a bright future ahead of you. So does your victim. All of us victims do. You were great at swimming. She is great at something, too. I was great at school, until I was raped, and then just thinking about school made it hard for me to breathe.

And, yet, here we both stand: she and I, on the other side, each telling our own story about the same thing. And I’m angry—not about what happened to me—but that it keeps happening, that we have to keep saying the same things over and over and over again.

As for who you were before you decided to rape her: it doesn’t matter. You chose your fate. You were a swimmer, now you’re a registered sex offender and a convicted rapist. The only thing that matters now is where you go from here. How do you learn from this? Can you own up to the choice you made without blaming it on the alcohol?  Can people learn from you? Can you teach others, not about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity, or about binge drinking and its unfortunate results, but about what rape is and how not to rape others?

John Steinbeck wrote, ““I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?”

You’ve already done ill.

I hope you choose to do well. Because that means there’s hope that good can triumph over evil.

And if there’s one thing we could use more of in this world, it’s hope.

Graduation: I’ll Be Ok

On Wednesday, I ordered my tickets for my College graduation. It’s crazy to think that in a month and a half, I will be a college graduate. But, here I am standing on the threshold of adulthood and adulthood. And people keep asking me, “What do you want to do after graduation?”

I don’t know what to say to them. So I tell them, “I’m not quite sure. I’ve started looking to see what’s out there, started looking to see what kind of jobs I can get with an English Degree. I’ll probably go to Grad school at some point, but that costs money that I don’t have. So I’m looking for a job, any job I can get really. I can’t afford to be picky: there are student loans to pay off, a car to buy, my future to save for. Everything’s being thrown at me all at once, and I can’t avoid it no matter how hard I try—I’ve never been good at Dodgeball.”

Except I don’t actually say that because, well, it’s pretty obvious.

The truth is, I have no idea what I’m doing after graduation. I know what my end goal is: to be a writer. But that probably, realistically won’t pay the bills that need to be paid (at least not right off the bat). I’m looking for a big-kid job that will pay the bills, but it’s a terrifying process.

And Depression isn’t helping.

Every time I sit down to work on my resume or work on an application, depression brings his cousins anxiety and doubt over for a visit.

It’s really hard to work on your future when the three cousins are interrupting you:

No one is going to want to hire you.

You didn’t do as well as you could have in college, and now you messed up your future.

Hah! English majors. What good job will that give you?

And maybe their right. Maybe I did mess up my future. Maybe I didn’t do as well as I could have in college because maybe I was too busy focusing on my mental health to worry about getting all A’s.

But maybe their wrong.

Because I didn’t necessarily do as well as I could have in High school, but I still got into college. And not doing well in College is not any indicator of how well you will do in life.

One thing I’ve learned for sure is that I’m worth more than my GPA. My GPA does not measure how many battles I’ve faced, how many battles I’ve lost, how many battles I’ve won. My GPA does not measure how smart I actually am, just how good I am at studying or BSing my way through essays. My GPA doesn’t measure my talents, my personality, how much I care for others.

My GPA can’t tell you how hard I am trying to be ok.

My GPA can’t tell you how bright my future is.

But my doubts certainly can. The harder I doubt, the stronger my belief is that I will do great things. (it’s counterintuitive, I know. But I’ve been fighting depression long enough to know that this is the case.)

I’ve been doubting a lot lately.

And all this doubting has made the world seem a lot heavier on my shoulders. It came to a head on Thursday night. If I was still self-harming, Thursday would have been one of those nights, without a doubt.

Instead, I wrote.

There were a billion and a half thoughts running through my head, but the only thing I managed to get out was “I’ll be ok.”

I’ll be ok.

I’ll be ok.

I’ll be ok.

I wrote that phrase 150 times, falling asleep half-way through the 151st time: I’ll be.

I’ll be (fill in the blank).

Amazing.

Strong.

Happy.

A world-changer.

But most importantly, I’ll be a writer. That’s what I am meant to be.

And it terrifies me.

I’ve started writing the same book three or four times. And every single time, I get freaked out and stop. But in the past few weeks, more and more people have told me that I need to keep writing. Some of these people have followed my journey from the beginning. Some of these people I don’t even know.

Somebody came up to me on Friday, told me that she read my blog because her friend showed it to her. She then told me, “Thank you for being my voice.”

Thank you for being my voice.

For a long time, I couldn’t find my voice. I lost in the midst of my fear and doubt.

But now I’ve found it, and I have so many stories to tell. Some funny; some sad. Some good; some bad.

And I’m terrified. But that’s ok because I’ve come to realize that fear is a powerful motivator. I’ve come to realize that words have power. Words can change the world.

My words have been my way of making sense of my struggles, and in the process, I’ve become the voice for so many who don’t know how to express what they feel.

And that terrifies me. I want to do myself and others justice. I want to express where I’ve been without losing sight of the future.

And the future terrifies me. My dreams terrify me. But if your goals and aspirations don’t terrify you, they’re not big enough.

I think fear is just your minds way of trying to protect you.

I’ve come to learn that no matter what happens, I’ll be ok.

I’ll be ok.

I’ll be ok.

I’ll be ok.

Close Your Eyes- A Fiction Piece

Author’s note: Originally written for my Creative Writing class, it also won best Fiction piece for the literary edition of my school’s newspaper.

Of the two of us, my little sister was always the smart one. I was the dreamer; she was rational. She’s a law student now, working as an intern in the big city. My life, however, turned out a little different. Looking back on how I lived my life, all I can wonder is: did I do enough?

. . .

On the evening of my twenty-first birthday, my friends and I were out celebrating, not drinking. I had seen how alcohol can destroy lives. My parents died during a heavy snowfall, in a five car pileup on the Thruway after some guy who had too much to drink lost traction and slammed his pickup into a tractor trailer, which jackknifed. My parents weren’t the only ones who died in that crash, but they were the only ones I knew, the only ones I cared about. My sister was two years old and understood mostly none of what happened. I was nine and understood too much. She wondered why mom and dad weren’t coming back, where they went; I wondered how someone could get behind a wheel drunk, putting other people’s lives in danger, and not think twice. He lost his life, and I felt like I lost mine. Eventually, my sister became my life.

. . .

We were alone, my sister and I, so my grandparents took us in. Bless their souls; they certainly had their hands full: my sister was just beginning to be potty trained, and I was still learning how to break out of my shell of shyness and talk to others. But we were tough, the two of us, and we learned how to survive. Every day, we taught each other the ways of the world, and in the process, learned more about ourselves. I was the one who taught her how to tie her shoes, who helped her learn to ride a bike. I taught her how to stand up for herself and when to walk away. I told her not to believe everything she sees on TV, but I also told her to believe in magic. In the process of being an older sister, my little sister taught me how to find joy. She taught me to take time to laugh, and that the curiosity of a child is a wonderful thing. Sometimes, all you need to get up in the morning, when the day ahead seems like too much to bear, is a simple reminder that you’re not alone. She reminded me every day.

I was the one who reminded her over and over and over again what happened to Mom and Dad, why they weren’t coming back. My sister was too young to remember them, so I had to do enough remembering for the two of us. I told her Dad’s favorite jokes, which were plenty. He knew how to find something humorous in every situation. In our small town, he was known for his ability to make up jokes off the top of his head, pull them out of thin air—like a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat. I thought he was Superman: invincible except for kryptonite. If kryptonite is snowfall, alcohol, and a pickup, I guess I was right. I was the one who sang my sister to sleep every night, watching as she closed her eyes and drifted off to the same words that once graced my mother’s lips: the wind knows a place where the stillness is, where the world seems to stop, and time stands still. Close your eyes, and in that moment, we’ll be together again. I thought my mother was the most beautiful woman in the world, and I hoped to God I would be like her someday.

My sister is the spitting image of my mother, with her big blue eyes and long blonde hair and ringlets cascading down her back. Dad had the dark hair, tan skin, dark eyes. “My Italian Prince,” my mom used to say. Somehow, I inherited his dark hair, tanner skin, but I have my mother’s eyes. Of the two of us, my sister definitely inherited my dad’s funny bone. She made me laugh when all I wanted to do was cry. And she could impersonate anybody and anything. A weird old man used to live in our town. He had a southern twang, and used words I’ve never heard of, and when he talked, he used every part of his body. Every time he spoke, it looked like he was dancing, or at least having a seizure.  Anytime we needed a laugh, she did her “Southern Man impression,” and she played him better than he did. My sister always told me that I have the prettiest voice in the world, and I would be famous someday. I always wanted to believe her. I wanted to make her proud of me, but what I failed to realize was that she was: she wanted everybody in our school to know that she was my sister. I guess she got her wish, I’m famous now, and everybody knows she’s my sister.

Yes, we were close, my sister and I, despite the seven years between us. I was never sure which was better: being so close that your younger sister copied everything you did, or being so distant that you hardly ever talk.

My sister and I talked for hours every day as we were growing up. We talked about boys, the future, and the funny happenings of life, but we also talked about serious things: I gave her the sex talk, which was awkward, and we also talked about death, what we thought heaven was like. We talked about almost everything. When I was eighteen, I recorded a demo of my Mother’s lullaby. It got me a recording contract, so I moved to the big city. Even then, we talked every day.

My sister wanted to be just like me. One time when I was fourteen, I found my sister in her room, pinching her stomach, disgusted at how she looked. My heart broke. I had done the same thing just a few minutes before; she had seen me do it every day for four years. What a hypocrite I was: I had always told her not to compare herself to others, and yet, there I was, comparing myself to all the girls I deemed prettier than me. I was never confident in my own skin. My sister and I were close, but I had never told her about my insecurities before that day. Open communication about everything started right there and then. I told her about all the anger I had toward that driver who killed our parents those six years before. I told her about how the mirror was never my friend. Then I told her how I was beginning the painful process of letting go of the anger I had, and in that process, I was learning how to love myself.

. . .

On the evening of my twenty-first birthday, my friends and I were out celebrating, not drinking. Instead, my friends and I went midnight bowling in fancy dresses—something I had missed out on doing after my Junior Prom. My sister had called me earlier in the day, and I told her to keep her eye out for a letter that would be arriving in the next few days, and after the “I love you”s and the goodbyes, we hung up and promised each other we would talk again tomorrow.

It was the best night of my life.

On the evening of my twenty-first birthday, my friends and I left the bowling alley. I heard tires screeching, a horn honk, and my friends screaming. I saw a bright light, and then everything went black. My last moments alive, I was surrounded by friends who loved me, but my sister wasn’t there. I regret that.

. . .

Four months after my funeral, my friends and family sat in a big city courtroom facing the man who hit me. Before the verdict came down, my little sister said she wanted to read the letter I had written her for the first time. The letter was dated my twenty-first birthday, and upon seeing this, she began to whimper softly. But after a few seconds, she somehow found the strength inside of her to begin reading:

Dear Little Sis,

            If I timed this letter correctly, it should be your first day of high school. Congratulations! People are going to tell you a lot of things about high school. Don’t listen to them. It’s not the best for years of your life, and you don’t have to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life.

            Don’t let anyone define you or put you in a box. It’s not for them to decide who you are and who you are going to be. Dream big. Reach for the stars. Defy gravity. Learn to embrace irony; life is riddled with it. If you want to travel the world, travel the world. Don’t live life with regrets. Learn how to love yourself, because there was once a time when I did not, and I spent so much time worried about what others thought of me, I didn’t define myself. I tried to please everyone, and it made me unhappy. Learn from my mistakes. Life is too short to let others dictate your life choices. If you ever see an injustice being done, fight. Fight hard. Fight for those who have no voice. Fight for those who are weak. Fight for yourself, but also learn when to walk away.

            I’ve learned that anger is a powerful motivator, but it’s also toxic, corrosive, destructive. It almost destroyed my life. But I learned that forgiveness is more powerful than all the wrongs done to you. Love is more powerful than all the evil in the world. If you ever find yourself angry at the world, take a step back, take a deep breath, and find the strength to forgive. Find the power to love. If there’s ever a day when you find it hard to get out of bed, when it feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, remember that an ant can carry things 6x its own weight. You are not an ant; you’re not alone in life. You have family and friends who love you, and a big sister who is more proud of you than anything in the world. And no matter how many miles separate us in the future, remember that I will always be with you. There are some chains distance can’t break: the love of a sister is one, because boys will come, and boys will go, but a love of a sister is forever.

            Talk to you soon,

            Your Big Sis!

The courtroom was quiet as the verdict came down: guilty on both counts—vehicular manslaughter and driving while Intoxicated.

. . .

Somewhere on a stretch of road, the pavement is stained red, serving as a reminder of how fragile life can be. Somewhere, in the cemetery of a small town, a twenty-one year old law student sits at my grave, her older sister, a singer known for one song, a lullaby; a singer who became famous only after her death. This woman sits in silence and listens as the whispering wind sings the words to her mother’s lullaby.

The wind knows a place where the stillness is, where the world seems to stop, and time stands still. Close your eyes, and in that moment, we’ll be together again.

Use Your Words. Here are my Words

I’ve forgiven. He’s apologized. (and, yes, it happened in that order.) But I can’t stop writing about it, and maybe reading about it all the time is getting annoying, but that’s your choice. I don’t force you to read what I write. This is not North Korea, nor is it Mao’s Little Red Book. This is not a required text for any of your classes, and I won’t quiz you on what you’ve read (unless you’re planning to date me, in which case, that last statement goes out the window, and any question is game).

So, basically, you can stop reading any time you want.

But I can’t stop writing, because I don’t write for writing’s sake. I write because I’m trying to figure something out, I’m trying to work through something, and I don’t know any other way to do it. (sure, once upon a time I did, but that just left me with too many scars, and it really did more harm than good.) When I was little, I didn’t talk: I knew how, but I had no reason to. I was the first grand-child on my mother’s side, and I was the first grand-daughter on my father’s. So, basically, my family knew I needed things before I did, all I had to do was point and go, “uhhh. Uhh.” Continually, I was told to use my words. “Use your words, Kaleigh. Use your words.”

Here are my words written last night when my nose was so congested I couldn’t breathe to sleep. Here are my words written last night when my head was so full that I wouldn’t have been able to sleep even if I could breathe.

The thing that hurts the most about this whole thing is that he told me that I should enjoy it, like it was a gift. A one-size fits all t-shirt. A gift that keeps on giving. A non-returnable, non-refundable, no one wants it anyway, type of gift. It’s the elephant in the room, or rather, the white-elephant gift that nobody is eager to trade. Warning: not permitted for resale. 

He asked me out. I said no. And then he got four of his friends and sexually assaulted me. And then he told me I should enjoy it, because it’s what I wanted when I turned him down, because I’m a bitch and a slut (his words, not mine). And it’s always easier to call the victim something else, to give them a non-human identity. They couldn’t call me by name even though they knew me for years. We were on a first name basis until that day. And then that tie was metaphorically severed. 

It’s easy to call someone else those words until you know how it feels to be on the receiving end: to catch the football thrown by the quarterback, and then immediately be tackled by a huge middlelinebacker when you are defenseless. *throws flag* Hit on a defenseless receiver. Defense. 15 yard penalty. Automatic first-down. 

There are no replays in real-life.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. I am an expert at bs-ing most of the papers I write, but this has got to be the biggest piece of crap I’ve ever heard. It’s as though his words can’t affect me if I say it long enough. My words can’t hurt you if I play this song over and over and over again. But, words do hurt. 

I’ve forgiven. He’s apologized. We’ve moved on. But I don’t think I’ll ever get over what happened to me. It’s not a hurdle to jump, nor a mountain to climb. I’ll heal, most definitely. But there’s a difference between healing (letting go) and getting over. I don’t freak out when I see any of them anymore. Or at least I didn’t the last time I saw one, anyway. But that’s a start.

Sometimes, it’s the littlest things that hurt the worst. I hope one day I’ll stop dreaming about what happened. I hope one day I won’t hear their voices in my head on my bad days. I hope one day shirt collars around my neck won’t terrify me as much.

I’ve never liked turtle-neck shirts, but I like them even less now. And I don’t always mean to wear low-cut shirts, but sometimes the thought of a t-shirt around my neck freaks me out. And until you’ve had hands around your neck, choking you as you try to fight off 5 pairs of unwanting hands, I don’t think you can understand. You should try, though, for my sake. And if not for mine, then someone elses. Because I’m not the only one.

T-shirts sometimes freak me out. But it happens less and less nowadays. 

Big steps, like not freaking out when you see someone in the store, are great. But sometimes, the little steps, like wearing t-shirts, are the greatest.

I live for the little steps. 

Just Keep Swimming

Disclaimer: this post is a post I’ve been mulling over for a few weeks now. I’ve been trying to figure out the way to treat this subject with the sensitivity it deserves, because yes, I can be open and candid about it, but for some people it’s just not easy. The wounds are too fresh. I’m showing you my cards here. I’m wiping off my poker face. I’m putting it all on the table. This post, like so many others, is about suicide. And I need, no, I want, you guys to know that before you keep reading. Because I understand that some of your wounds are fresh, but I also know that sometimes talking about can speed up the healing process. I also know that sometimes talking about it can make it worse. So, if the latter is the case, stop reading. I don’t want to make your burden heavier than it already is. Make yourself a cup of tea and go to your happy place. If the former is the case, make yourself a cup of tea and read this post. Either way, I want you all to know that you are loved, and there are people out there who understand your pain, who will be willing to help carry your burden.

 

It’s been 4 years, 1 month, and 1 day since I attempted suicide. I survived. Yet, so many others do not.

I’m not going to give you statistics, because if you want to know, you can look up the numbers on your own. I’m not going to give you statistics, because this isn’t speech class where I need numbers to convince my audience to agree with me. It’s not that I don’t have facts, because I do.

Fact: Suicide is a moment.

Fact: Depression is a race.

Fact: Suicide is a moment. A moment when someone decides they are tired of running.

Fact: Depression is a race, and if you stop running for even a second, it catches you.

Fact: Suicide is a moment. A moment when someone decides they are tired of running. In that moment, it doesn’t matter that there are people who love them.

Fact: Depression is a race, and if you stop running for even a second, it catches you. If you stop and rest, it begins to grow on you.

Fact: Suicide is a moment. A moment when someone decides they are tired of running. In that moment, it doesn’t matter that there are people who love them. Because all of sudden, life hits them in the chest, and they realize this sadness will never go away.

Fact: Depression is a race, and if you stop running for even a second, it catches you. If you stop and rest, it begins to grow on you. It’s like a vine that blocks out the sun, a python strangling the joy out of you, and rust that corrodes the bones.

Fact: Suicide is a moment. A moment when someone decides they are tired of running. In that moment, it doesn’t matter that there are people who love them. Because all of a sudden, life hits them in the chest, and they realize this sadness will never go away. And they dare themselves to do it.

Fact: Depression is a race, and if you stop running for even a second, it catches you. If you stop and rest, it begins to grow on you. It’s like a vine that blocks out the sun, a python strangling the joy out of you, and rust that corrodes the bones. And it’s so easy it sit there and let it consume you, because it whispers to you of an eternal sleep.

Fact: Life is made up of moments.

Fact: Life is a race.

When I am up high, I get scared. Because I’m telling myself, I could really do this. I could. But then, when I think these thoughts, I think of how great it would be to fall in love, how great it would be to travel the world. And I return back to normal. But I hold on to the moment and the thought of what it would be like to travel through the air. And I know I’ll probably never take myself up on the dare again, but the memory gives me a comfort that the day is mine to choose. Because the memory of how I felt in that moment when I swallowed those pills is tucked away in my brain like a sour candy stored in my cheek. I don’t like sour candy.

Some people do.

Some people take themselves up on the dare, because they don’t see how life can get any better. And I can understand why, because sometimes I’m tired of running, which is usually 2.5 minutes after I begin, because I have asthma.

Some people take themselves up on the dare, and they leave their families behind. And their families are left picking up the pieces and are trying to make them fit. But like a jigsaw puzzle with a missing piece, it will never be the same.

And we can’t save everybody, but we should certainly try.

Because I know first-hand how devastating a suicide can be. My mother lost a cousin to it, and my dad did too. And they almost lost a daughter.

And in the last year, my high school has lost two graduates to it, and now the families and friends are wondering why.

I don’t know the reason for other people, but I know mine.

And I think society is talking about it more, which is good, but I think people need to better understand that this is a disease. People like me can’t just snap out of it. Because we can recover for a while, but it will inevitably return, so we live our lives in the moment. The future is scary, and it’s not always guaranteed.

Because it’s all too easy to drown in an ocean of tears, and sometimes we forget we can float in salt water.

 

 

I’ve Missed the Son.

As I’m writing this, the sun is streaming through my window. And after a long week of late nights writing papers, there’s nothing better to do on a Friday afternoon than what I’m doing now: sitting in bed, reading poetry, and writing the same.

It’s been a long, brutally cold winter here in Upstate New York, and I’ve missed the sun  and the warmth. But, I’ve mostly missed the sun. The bitter cold and the walk across campus with the blowing snow would almost be bearable if the sun shone down.

Hold on. I think I need to start this poem again.

I saw the sun today. It looked like a cross. I was reminded of the Son and where I wouldn’t be right now if it wasn’t for him. The sun illuminates the earth, and the Son (capital S-O-N) illuminates peoples’ lives. And it is good.

It’s winter right now, but days like today remind me spring is on its way. Spring reminds me of fresh life and beauty. Summer reminds me of all the dreams I have. Fall reminds me that everything beautiful has an end. But ends bring new beginnings. Winter reminds me I’m still alive even on my worst days. Because some days it’s so cold, my lungs feel like they’re on fire, but in those moments, I remember I’m still breathing.

Speaking of breathing, I have asthma, and sometimes my lungs forget how to work, especially when I laugh. After 19 years of laughing, you’d think I wouldn’t have to practice. But I do, I practice everyday. Because life is ridiculous, and sometimes I have good comebacks and snarky responses, but often they arrive 5 minutes too late. but if you ask me for a pun, I’ll be so sharp, I’ll be banned from airplanes, which is a shame. 37,000 feet in the air is beautiful.

It’s my last winter as a teenager, and I’m trying to decide if that matters or not. I work as a Receptionist on Monday mornings, but I’m not very good at small talk. I do the “how do you do’s?” and I do care whether the weather is to your liking or not, but I feel much like the spelling of awkward, which is in fact, awkward.

I’m bad at making small talk, but I’m not bad at conversation. I could talk about the complexities of life, the importance of faith, what happens after death, or any other topic that’s as deep as the ocean, for hours on end. Those are the conversations I live for, that get my blood pumping, that remind me how much passion there can be.

Soon I’ll no longer be 19. Soon I’ll be 20. I saw a poster once about “20 things you should do before you’re 20.” I haven’t done many of them. I’ve made my own list.

I miss having a child’s sense of innocence. I asked a child coming into daycare once, “What’s your favorite color?” He responded confidently, “10.” And I’ve wondered to myself since then why my favorite color can’t be 10.

Society can tell me 10’s not a color. But I can see something in 10 different ways. And besides, if you’re a graphic designer, you know colors can have a blue value of 10, red value of 8, and green value of 4. So, the kid was right in saying 10 is his favorite color.

The best metaphor that ever exited my mouth was, “I’ve been down that road, and it ended in a cul-de-sac of regret.” The best phrase I’ve ever heard was, “Blood is thicker than water, but maple syrup is thicker than blood.” Because I don’t like pancakes that much, but one day, I’ll meet a guy who will make me want to eat pancakes with him.

If you can string words together to make a phrase that makes me stop dead in my tracks, I applaud you. Because everyday I tell people, “that’s the best phrase I’ve ever heard.” And every time it’s true. Because I speak in book quotes and song lyrics and metaphors, because language is beautiful.

I’ve been told that my writing is beautiful, but I don’t understand how my pain can be beautiful. There’s nothing beautiful about the way I feel, which is why I’m always confused.

Do you want to know what is beautiful? The sun.

I’ve missed the sun.

It’s starting to set now, which means it’s taken me two hours to think of the words to this poem. But it’s going to take you a lot less time to forget it. I guess that means Marx was wrong. He said that the value of something is equal to the amount of time a person spent working on it.

It took me two hours to put this poem on paper, but I’ve spent 19 years writing it.

Because life is a poem, composed of metaphors, and I’ve spent 19 years interpreting its meaning, analyzing the symbols of my scars and my pain, and contemplating what on earth the poet is trying to tell me.

It’s been a long winter. But days like this, where the sun is shining and it feels like spring, I am reminded that life is beautiful.

 

One Day You Will Fly: Update!

About a year ago, I wrote the following blog post. And it was a huge hit (Coincidentally, it is also the intro to the book I’m writing, but more on that in a minute)! Since it was a huge hit, I’d thought I’d update my readers on what has happened in my life since then.

But first, my original post:

To all the people who think that they are not good enough; to the people who believe that there is no way out; to the people who believe that they are alone in this struggle; to the people who believe that they will never be loved:

This is for you.

To all the people who took a razor to their beautiful skin; to all the people who have starved themselves, who refused to eat, and then asked, “Am I beautiful now?”; to all the people who have ever wanted to end it all:

This is for you.

I know it’s hard. I’m not just saying that either; I’m not trying to sympathize, trying to understand what it’s like—because, until you’ve been to that point, you don’t understand. Until you’ve been down that road, until you’ve lost sight of the light, until you’ve been down the never-ending pit of despair, you will never understand.

I’m saying it’s hard because I’ve been there. I’ve been down that road; I’ve been down that pit, and I’ve dug myself out—over and over again. And I have the scars to prove it. Scars faint enough that only the observant will notice; but scars dark enough to show that I’ve survived.

I know what it’s like to be told to snap out of it, as if it were an insect that could be smashed with the smack of a hand. Rather, I’m the insect, and depression is that hand, threatening to destroy my being as it comes closer and closer—like a dark, ominous storm cloud that threatens to engulf a lone ship, Hope, sailing on the ocean of my soul.

And I know what it’s like to watch the blood drip off my skin as I cut myself open with the razor of hate, waiting for the needle of hope to stitch me back together again. I’ve treaded water in the ocean of darkness, while trying not to drown, waiting for a life-preserver to be thrown my way.

You’re not worth it; you deserve it; you’re ugly, and nobody cares.

Those words have repeated over and over again in my head. They serve as unwanted memories of things said and things done.

If only I were prettier; if only I were skinnier; if only I looked like that, all my problems would be solved.

Those lies are fed to me by the devil’s hand as I compare myself to others, reminding me that, sometimes, I am my own worst enemy.

If any of these words have ever applied to you, I’m here to tell you that you’ll be ok, and you’re not alone. It will get better, and it will get worse; though it may get worse for a while, I promise you that it will always get better. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.

You won’t wake up one day and say, ‘I’ll be ok.’ It’s a journey, it’s a struggle, and it’s a fight. And with every battle you fight, you get a little bit stronger; every journey you take, you gain a little more courage. When it comes around again, you can fight harder.

Hope whispers in your ear: ‘You can do this; don’t give up.’

Some days, you will scream, and you will cry. Some days, you will want to stop fighting; but, don’t give up, my dear. Because, one day, you will realize that you are stronger than this demon that plagues you. Even though the urge to pick up that razor won’t go away, you’ll learn how to control it.

I learned how to write with pain—how to take the blood that flows from my skin and turn it into something beautiful instead.

And even though I know I have talents, I sometimes doubt my abilities. But, don’t we all? And even though I know that I am beautiful, sometimes I still compare myself to others.

“Some girls say they’re not pretty, because they know someone’s going to come and say “Shut up, you know you are”. But some girls say they’re not pretty, not because they’re looking for attention, but because that’s how they feel. They compare themselves and see what others don’t. We see someone beautiful, but they see stretch marks, gut hanging out, small bodily features that wouldn’t catch the average guy’s eye. That’s why some girls can’t take a compliment; they feel like they don’t deserve it.”

If you don’t know what it is like to feel this way, don’t tell me it will get better. It’s not a disease. Don’t judge what you don’t know.

But if you do know what it’s like, trust me when I tell you it gets better, because I’ve been in your shoes. I’ve walked that road, and some days, I still do.

My scars and my words prove it. And believe me when I tell you this:

One day, you will spread your wings and fly.

—————————————————————————————–

How has my life changed since I wrote this? Well, for one: I flew. I’m not going to put the whole story here, because it can be found in my post “Set a Fire.” But, to summarize: I’ve always been afraid of heights–not because of how high I was off the ground, but because of gravity, and because my desire to jump was always greater than my desire to live. Until one day, when I had no desire to try and die and instead wanted to sprout wings and fly. So, I did. And I haven’t really come down since–my feet are on the ground, but my head’s in the clouds. And I’m writing a book, because I’ve always wanted to do so, but I’ve never had the courage. Because what if my story’s not powerful enough? What if nobody cares about what I have to say?

But I’ve realized something. People out there have stories similar to mine, and some of these people don’t know how to deal with the pain they are feeling in a healthy way. I’ve found out how to put the pain I feel into words, and if I can change one person’s life, I will be happy.

One day, I spread my wings and flew!

An Open Letter to my Readers

To everyone who’s ever read my blog, whether you’ve read one post or all of them or any number in between: Thank you!

In the last few weeks, the number of people reading my blog has increased dramatically. And in the last few weeks more people have thanked me for writing my blog than I ever thought possible.

People have thanked me for my “openness and honesty when it comes to real life issues teenagers struggle with today.” People have thanked me for how I “put feelings and emotions on paper in a way people who don’t understand Depression are able to understand.” People have thanked me because my blog has helped them/someone they know. People have thanked me because they are now able to relate better to people who have Depression.

People are thanking me when I should be thanking them.

I should be thanking you.

This is not the first time I’ve kept a blog, and it probably won’t be the last. But this blog has been the most rewarding. When I started this blog, I was on a journey of healing with the intent to find myself. This journey has been long and hard. There have been many sleepless nights, many internal battles deciding if I should write about “such and such a topic,” and there have been many tears as I relive certain painful memories. This blog tells about what it’s like to struggle with Depression, Eating Disorders, and self-harm. This blog has recounted the memories of my Sexual Assault, and how I dealt with the pain of it all.

But mostly, this blog’s been about hope. I believe no matter how painful life is, it’s also beautiful. And there are many days when I don’t want to write anymore, because it’s all too painful. There are days when I tell myself no one wants to read what I write, no one cares what I have to say, but day-after-day, “thank you” after “thank you,” you prove me wrong.

People like you who read my blog, who tell me your stories, who tell me how my blog has helped you, have made this journey full of sleepless nights and many tears worth it.

And I just want to say, Thank you! I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I hope you will continue to join me on this journey called “life.”

Gene Pool

“Dear Je…”

“Hot food over here, cold food over there.”

My Grandfather was laughing so hard he couldn’t finish the prayer.

My Grandmother has always been a little hard of hearing. My Grandfather has always been a little hard of seeing. So between the two of them… they’re a perfect pair.

If that’s not the best way to describe my Grandparents, I don’t know what is. But allow me to continue.

My Grandfather is a well-educated, even-keeled man. He has a Bachelor’s, two Master’s, and a Doctorate. His official title is “Reverend Doctor Boppa Sir,” but we just call him “Boppa.” (Since I am the oldest grandchild on my mother’s side, I called all the shots). I’ve never heard him laugh, but I have heard him chuckle deeply. He may forget where he placed his keys, but if you ask him a question about anything he ever learned, he’ll remember the answer. He was a College Professor before he retired, and he was also head of the Religion and Humanities Department for a while. It should come as no surprise then that when I needed help writing a paper for one of my classes, I sought him out for help.

When I called him up and asked if I could “borrow some of his knowledge” (those were in fact my exact words), he didn’t sound too enthused. But I could sense excitement in his voice as he responded with a strong, “sure. When are you free?” When I showed up the next morning, he said it would take him a few minutes to find his notes. Not more than 30 seconds later he returned with a copy of all his lectures. (Clearly he knew exactly where they were, and clearly he was waiting for the day when one of his Grand-children would ask for his expertise on his specialty.)

Unless you are prepared to learn why you are wrong and are prepared to receive a lecture on what Grammar means, “where are you at?” is not the correct answer to use in my Grandfather’s presence. Yes, he was an English major in College. And in case you are wondering, I probably received my love for English from him. But that’s not all I received from him. We both love trivia and game shows, and we both think Jeopardy is fantastic. We both like puzzles of the jigsaw and brain varieties. And while he does his crosswords in pen, I do mine in pencil. And we both love a good game of scrabble. I beat him at Scrabble for the first time a few months ago. I was excited on the outside. He wasn’t. But, I know on the inside he was proud.

He plays Solitaire on his computer for hours, but he’s never lonely. He has seven Grandchildren. One of them shares his name. (One time my Grandmother was yelling at my Grandfather, and my Cousin put himself in time-out (ok, it was more than once)). I’m sure when we’re all together it feels like there are more than seven of us. Both of his daughters married Italian men, and Italians are good at being loud and eating.

My Grandmother knows how to cook. When you are at her house, you never go hungry. At her house, there is no such thing as a simple snack, because even snack is five courses. Phrases such as, “Grandma, I wanted a little scoop of ice-cream, not the whole tub,” are heard frequently. The candy jars are always full, and you always leave her house a few pounds heavier than when you came. She doesn’t know how to cook for two people; she only knows how to cook for a small army of people. And even though she has hearing aids, she may not hear you the first time you call. But when she does, she’ll be there immediately.

When I was smaller than I am now, I would curl up in her lap, and we would read books for hours. By the time I was too big to fit in her lap, we had three joke books memorized. That is why I’ll always understand the punch line before everyone else (living with my Dad may have helped my getting of punch lines too, but shhh. It’s a secret). She always gives the best advice: “Never get old, Kaleigh. Your memory starts to go/your knees get bad, etc.” I hate to tell her my short-term memory is not much better than that of a goldfish. I think I’ve inherited her bad knees, too. They are starting to mimic the sound of an old house.

Staying home from school because of sickness were always the best. It meant a free day at Grandma’s. She just knows how to take care of you. When I had my appendix out one Christmas Eve, all I wanted to do was see Grandma. So I ate that yucky hospital food. I peed in the stupid toilet. I took that painful walk. And even though it was 7:30 pm on Christmas Eve when I left that hospital, I went to Grandma’s, because she wanted to see me as much as I wanted to see her. Grandma makes everything better. And I’m not sure if it’s because she was a nurse, or it’s because she’s Grandma. I’m leaning toward the latter.

When she left her purse in the cart at K-mart, the first thing she thought was, “Oh no! The Grandkids!” She was more worried about not getting those pictures of her grandchildren back than she was about the credit cards. And if that’s not the perfect definition of Grandma, you need to change yours.

My Grandparents give more than they take. They’ve been to more concerts, school plays, soccer games, and piano recitals than I can count. They even came to my High School Graduation (bless their hearts)! They’ve let my sisters, cousins, and me spend the night. They even let me spend a week at their house, sleeping in one of their extra bed, eating their food, because they didn’t want me spending the week in an empty house (even though I am 19).

My Grandparents taught me what it means to love. They taught me love is in the little things, not necessarily the big. They taught me loving someone is not the same as liking someone. And you don’t always have to like someone, but you always have to love them.

My Grandparents are adorable. She calls him “dear.” He pours her coffee and opens the bottles she can’t. And sometimes when he’s going to meet my cousins’ school bus, he will pause at the door a little longer and say “bye” one more time.

So I know genes are inherited, but most behaviors are learned. And I want a marriage like theirs someday. I want to be like them someday. And I know life isn’t a competition, but I’m winning. Because when it comes to Grandparents, I have the best ones.