I don't talk about this anymore, or not as often, as the hotness of it, the sting, the pain and the anger are behind me, but there is not a day that goes by when I don't feel the effect the abuse I have endured as a child has had on my life. It delayed my blooming, my physical, emotional, and intellectual development. But sometimes something would jar me, poke me, and remind me of it. This time what poked me was Americanah, the book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that I started reading the other day, and Adichie's TED talk on feminism.
If you can think of a bird, a young weak fledgeling that crawls out of the broken shell, and if you can imagine what would happen to that fledgeling if it doesn't get proper care, if it's not fed like its brothers and sisters are fed, if it's beaten and pecked at daily, you can predict that this fledgeling will be the last to chirp and the last to learn to fly and maybe it will crash to its death on the first try because the bones in its wings are broken. But now imagine that it did learn to fly, despite its shortcomings, only it learned much later, and every move of its wings sends painful spasms down its nerves but it perseveres and it struggles and it does it. It gets better and better. Yet it's easy to break it. It's not whole. It's injured for life and any wind that's too strong and any cliff that's too high might be its ruin.
You know how they call some people late bloomers. All of us abuse survivors are late bloomers. When the others used their time to grow and to mature we used our time to hide and to lick our wounds and to figure out how not to get hurt again. Our development is often delayed. Certain skills are forever missing. It might not be as glaring as an injured leg or a missing eye, but it's there and it's deeper and it's worse. You can't just swallow a pill and fix it. You have to work through it and hope that you have enough strength to go all the way.
I started writing late. Life finally got pissed at me and my body got pissed at me and my mind did too, and they pushed me into it, threatening suicide if I didn't. When I look back at the years I lived I see how much I've lost and how much I will never reclaim and then I get upset at myself for not learning fast enough, for being ignorant and tongue-tied often in this second English language and hollow and empty, with so much knowledge to gain and fill me me, and yet I can only do so much in a day.
I am not alone in this, but I and others like me don't often speak of it. We're used to waging our battles alone, in the privacy of our own heads. Or on paper, if we have courage to write. Or on canvases. Or in songs. Or in any other way that we can leech that poison from our minds and bodies without having to explain it, something we always have trouble with because growing up we learned one lesson from our abusers: nobody listens.
But how wonderful it is to come into yourself, to love yourself, to feel confident, and how impossible a dream it seems if you have never known love, if you have known so little the only feeling you have for yourself is hate, and you turn it inward, and if it gets really bad you kill yourself, or you turn it outward and don't know how to stop it and kill others, especially if you have an easy access to guns. You feel jealous, of those who have it good. Those who have loving parents and whole unbroken families and holiday dinners and birthday parties and other things, things you didn't have, don't have, and craved. Crave, crave, crave so bad.
It's this craving that holds us back, holds me back. I often focus on achievements of others more than I focus on what I have achieved and how far I've come. I don't know how to relax. I don't know how to celebrate. I don't know how to feel good about myself. I'm getting better at this, slowly, but it's a fight. Every day it's a fight.
And so I ask you to think about this, to think about how easily a harsh word can break a child, and imagine that we are all still children. And we are. We pretend to be adults, and some of us have reached a threshold of wisdom and they are lucky. They got their chance. I'm lucky I got my chance. I fled my birth country and with it I fled my history, my language, my family. My gut told me to run. "Run away so you can heal," it said. "Once you heal, then we will see."
And so I did. The child in me did. The child fled. That child is still in me. That child is in all of us. And if we could encourage that child to do whatever that child wants to do, that dream, that crazy dream, to dance, to fly an airplane, to sing on a stage, to write a book, we will help one more fledgeling to learn how to fly and believe and be. Just be, and be okay with just being. There will be so much peace in that. Imagine that. So much love.
Now I want you to think about your writing and those critiques that hurt you or those negative reviews of your books if you're a writer and have happened to get some negative reviews, and think about how they made you want to give up. That's what we do to each other. That's us, that's our humanity right there. "Oh, you think you can fly, you broken piece of shit? There, let me smack you upside the head. How do you like that?" Some of us never get back up after a good thrashing. We move on, get a job, forget our dreams. And the child in us hides. The child in us cries. The child in us doesn't want to get hurt again, and we protect the child. We carry the child hidden to the grave.
Even now, typing this, I'm held back by fear. What is it that I'm trying to say here? Something important, something very important. But I feel that I can't quite articulate it. "My God, I'm dumb, I'm so dumb," I think. "Who do I think I am, trying to write?" You see? It's still with me. This conditioning of not permitting myself to have an ambition, to think big, to speak grand, to believe that yes, I can.
It holds me back, what was done to me. It held me back for years. But I see it now. I see the bastard. I recognize it. "Hey, you, self-hate, you're not mine. Get out of my way." And you know what's funny? It does. It hides from me now. I think it's scared of me, of my new self-confidence.
So you know, I will ask you to do one more thing, one little thing that will take you not time but will mean the world to someone else. Is there someone in your life, an artist, a writer, who has tried sharing with you their art and maybe you were too busy to listen or to look or to read? Someone you brushed off? Can you look up that someone and ask them how their book is doing, or their painting, or whatever it was they were creating? Who knows what you might unlock with that simple question, simple show of interest.
I have had that happen to me. When we started dating with Royce, I was angry at men in general and very hurt and I wanted to push him away and told him to read my old blog. It's hidden now, about 150K words of physical pain. Then the next day he said, "I read it all. You could be a writer."
And I believed I could, because he said it. I believed I could. And I am. Imagine that. How much those words did for me. How much words can do. Words have power.